As catastrophic hurricanes, unprecedented flooding, massive fires, deadly earthquakes and even disruptive volcanoes increasingly dominate the headlines, it’s impossible to forget the indelible images and stories of personal hardship and destruction that follow natural disasters. But with every story of loss there are also uplifting stories, and in the hospitality world some of those stories have been about renewal.

Puerto Rico Bounces Back After Hurricane Maria

One of the deadliest and most destructive forces of nature was Hurricane Maria in September 2017, which caused $90 billion worth of damage to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Hotel properties in Puerto Rico were hit hard and many closed due to the damage.

Today, Puerto Rico is as beautiful and booming as ever, according to Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, who said the first and foremost challenge is to correct misperceptions.

“A lot of people don’t realize just how far we’ve come over the past 13 months,” Dean said. “Puerto Rico is writing a comeback story like our industry has never seen.

“We’re not just open for business—we’re coming back bigger and better,” he added.

Throughout the island, hotels took advantage to completely revamp.

Many have reopened or are slated to in the coming months. Meanwhile, $1.9 billion in hotel construction and other developments is bringing 25 percent more room capacity.

Among the projects are new properties such as Four Seasons Cayo Largo Resort, JW Marriott in Dorado and Mall of San Juan Hotel, all of which will add 3,800 guest rooms to the inventory.

Additionally, the five-acre District San Juan will debut in the fourth quarter of 2019 as a vibrant entertainment district and popular setting for events, conventions and performances. It will also feature the 175-unit Aloft Hotel at the Convention Center at District San Juan.

Several properties that closed after the hurricane used the opportunity to significantly upgrade before reopening.

The Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve reopened after expanding and enhancing facilities, including 114 renovated beachfront guest rooms and suites, Spa Botanico and new landscaping with more than 300,000 species of flora and fauna.

The St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort plans to reopen in December following the completion of a $60 million renovation that includes a large seaside pool, an ocean-front golf course and the new Iridium Spa.

Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort
Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort

El San Juan Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton will reopen on Isla Verde Beach this winter following a significant restoration. The project includes everything from its 388 guest rooms and oceanfront villas to an ornamental hand-carved mahogany ceiling in its historic lobby.

The Ritz-Carlton, San Juan plans to reopen in 2019 with several major enhancements. The resort designed a new lobby lounge as well as a lobby terrace. Meeting spaces are being transformed with details such as blues representing the ocean, monuments representing Old San Juan and sandy colors. The resort’s 416 rooms are also being completely renovated, as well as the casino.

El Conquistador, A Waldorf Astoria Resort is expected to reopen in the first or second quarter of 2019 following a major renovation due to hurricane damage.

“It’s a phenomenal opportunity for El Conquistador,” said Dermot Connolly, managing director of the property, adding that it has a remarkable location on the northeast corner of the island.

“Before the hurricane we had phenomenal views,” he said. “Now we really have phenomenal views. It’s nature’s way of pruning the landscaping.”

Melia Coco Beach will reopen in December 2018 following a renovation. The project includes all 486 junior suites, which will feature marble floors and private balconies, as well as improvements to its main ballroom and all meeting venues.

“One of best things to come out of this is that you’re going to have a brand-new destination when you book Puerto Rico,” said Luis Perez, associate director of sales and marketing for Melia Coco Beach.

Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort recently took the wraps off a multimillion-dollar renovation that included newly refreshed spaces such as the Caicu Rum Bar and Marbella restaurant as well as upgrades to its 400 guest rooms and 48,000 square feet of indoor meeting space.

“We never really closed, since we had stayed open for first responders,” said General Manager Nils Stolzlechner.

But the property did suffer major water damage, prompting the upgrades, everything from replacing carpets and repainting to introducing new restaurants.

“It’s like a different hotel,” Stolzlechner said. “The silver lining is we got a new fresh start, a chance I don’t think I’ll have again. Now we’re really a Four Diamond product.”

Although the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino did not suffer significant structural damage, the property is currently undergoing two significant restoration projects, including a new restaurant and remodeling of the Cabana Tower ocean-view guest rooms and suites currently on track to be completed in spring 2019.

Houston Hotels Renovate Following Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in August 2017 as a Category 4 storm, causing an estimated $125 billion in damage, according to the National Hurricane Center, with much of the destruction coming from flooding in Houston.

Omni Houston Hotel sustained significant water damage and used the opportunity to undergo a rehaul. The 378-room property recently debuted its $30 million renovation, including new public spaces such as La Reserve whiskey lounge, which pays homage to Houston’s history.

Main Lobby With
Main Lobby With "Living" Green Walls, Omni Houston

Meeting space on the first and second floors were redesigned and include an additional 2,500 square feet of space. The property offers two new conference areas with boardrooms and breakout space.

“Throughout this renovation, we collaborated with the design team to showcase Houston’s natural surroundings while also giving a nod to the city’s rich history,” said Laura McKoy, vice president of interior design and creative director for Omni Hotels & Resorts.

“Each space is a testament to Omni’s ‘local flavor’ and you’ll see various colors, materials, textures and patterns highlighting this throughout the newly designed hotel,” she added.

The 93-room Lancaster Hotel, which was also forced to close post-hurricane, recently reopened following a 10-month, multimillion-dollar upgrade. Meanwhile, new properties on the horizon include the 353-room InterContinental Houston Medical Center with over 12,000 square feet of event space set to open this December 2018, and a 150-room Hyatt Place Hotel slated for 2019

Hurricane Irma Can’t Stop Florida Tourism

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated that 2017’s Hurricane Irma caused at least $50 billion in damage in Florida. Much of the damage was sustained in the Florida Keys area, though Miami-Dade County, the Space Coast and other regions were also affected. Some properties like the DoubleTree by Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront and The Ritz-Carlton Miami, South Beach remain closed for post-hurricane repairs and renovations, while others have already debuted their renovations.

In the Keys, Islamorada’s Cheeca Lodge & Spa reopened in March after a $25 million renovation that included a new fishing pier, spa, lobby and rooms. The property underwent extensive updates to its 4,600 square feet of indoor meeting space as well as its outdoor event venues.

The Hilton Key Largo Resort, which was hit hard by wind and waves, is converting to the 200-room Baker’s Cay Resort Key Largo, Curio Collection by Hilton and is set to debut early next year. The 13-acre property will offer 17,000 square feet of meeting space with executive boardrooms, a grand lawn and two expansive ballrooms.

On the Atlantic side, the 240-unit Ocean Point Pointe Suites at Key Largo was renovated and reopened spring 2018.

Hawks Kay Resort on Duck Key, Middle Keys, Florida
Hawks Kay Resort on Duck Key, Middle Keys, Florida

One of the properties to recently emerge with an extensive renovation is the 60-acre Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key in the Middle Keys. The 177-room property reopened August 30, 2018, with a $50 million refurbishment.

“The owners used the opportunity to create a brand-new resort with a more coastal feel,” said Sheldon Suga, Hawks Cay’s vice president regional managing director.

Renovations were done to its guest rooms, 20,000 square feet of oceanfront meeting space and Angler and Ale restaurant, among other areas.

Napa and Sonoma Set Examples for Post-Fire Recovery

The deadly fires in California’s Napa and Sonoma regions in 2017 swept through residential areas, wiping out thousands of homes, and also destroyed two Santa Rosa hotels, Fountaingrove Inn and Hilton Sonoma Wine Country, both of which are rumored to be making a comeback at some point down the road.

A few smaller properties suffered damage as well, including the 29-room Kenwood Inn and Spa, which closed for five months due to heavy smoke damage, according to Sharon Rooney, director of public relations for Four Sisters Inns. The spa will reopen March 2019 after remodeling.

“Cleanup was extensive, and the property needed a complete refresh, from rooms to landscaping,” she said.

In Napa, Signorello Estate was the only winery that burned down during the fires. It opened a temporary tasting space in July 2018 and broke ground on its new tasting room October 2018.

Signorello Estate's new tasting room is slated to open by harvest 2020.